The Hidden History of How Washington Embraced UFOs

The Hidden History of How Washington Embraced UFOsMay 28, 2021


The meetings began in 1995, in a conference room in an office tower near the Las Vegas airport. The group started small: there were a handful of scientists and engineers; there was a CIA spy. There was an ex-Army colonel, and two Apollo astronauts.

And there was the person who’d hand-picked the group and invited them to Las Vegas: Robert Bigelow, a Nevada real-estate magnate. He wanted to talk about aliens.

Bigelow, just turning 50 at the time, had made enough money as a commercial developer, opening budget hotels across the Southwest, that he could finally indulge a fascination with UFOs that dated back years, to a close encounter his grandparents had experienced and told him about when he was three years old. He dubbed the group, somewhat grandly, the National Institute for Discovery Science.

NIDS, as it took shape in those Las Vegas meetings, was mainly interested in two topics: UFOs and consciousness after death. Its members were experts who had gotten used to having their interests disrespected by their peers. The group’s co-founder was John Alexander, a retired Army officer who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and had published books and articles on various aspects of ufology and the paranormal. Another was Hal Puthoff, an engineer and self-described parapsychologist who, while at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1970s and 1980s, had carried out top secret experiments for the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency on “remote viewing,” or using the human mind to sense objects or events far away. “One of the professors at Stanford thought that was all nonsense,” he said. “He wouldn’t let his kids play with my kids because of what I was doing.”


Collectively, the group, which also attracted former astronauts Ed Mitchell, an avowed ufologist, and Harrison Schmitt, who had also served as a U.S. senator from New Mexico a decade earlier, didn’t fret too much about the reputational risks of talking openly about whether the government had captured an alien or retrieved a crashed spacecraft. For them, that was the point of being there.

There was one person at those meetings, however, who did have something to lose by attending: Harry Reid, then serving his second term as a U.S. senator from Nevada.

Reid had been introduced to Bigelow by a well-known Nevada TV journalist named George Knapp, who had written extensively on the subject of UFOs over the years and had recently secured some Russian government documents purporting to shed light on the topic. Knapp knew from covering Reid’s career that the senator had a curiosity about the subject. Reid accepted Bigelow’s invitation, but not before making clear to Knapp that his participation must remain secret. Knapp honored that agreement for the past quarter century until Reid recounted his odyssey in detail over a series of interviews with me in recent months.


“This guy named Bigelow is doing an event at his conference room and has been inviting a bunch of people to talk about these unidentified flying objects,” Reid told me in a recent interview. “He had some people with some weird ideas. Not scientific. A few oddballs. I listened to some of the presentations. That’s how I got started.”

In its way, Reid’s decision to fraternize with the group was as professionally reckless as anything that might have been happening outside on the Vegas Strip. Reid, then 55, had aspirations to lead the Democratic Party. The stuff being discussed around him was pop-culture shorthand for pure nuttiness.

“I had my staff, I had lots of people who said: ‘You are going to get yourself in trouble, stay the hell away from that,’” Reid told me. “A lot of people said it would ruin my career.”

Over the next few years, Reid told me, he went to multiple such meetings. As Bigelow, Alexander and the others were publishing obscure journal articles and compiling a database of UFO sightings, the most influential member of the group quietly broached the topic with some of his colleagues in Washington, including former astronaut and senator John Glenn. Reid ultimately enlisted the support of a handful of powerful committee chairs, including Ted Stevens of Alaska and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, to fund hush-hush UFO research inside the Defense Department. The existence of that program was revealed publicly by POLITICO and the New York Times in mid-December 2017. One of the program’s main beneficiaries was an aerospace company owned by none other than Robert Bigelow.

Next month, the director of national intelligence, acting at the behest of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, is scheduled to release a report that collects from across the government all relevant material on what the officials now call “unidentified aerial phenomena.” Regardless of what ultimately emerges in this report—whether it’s a trove of blockbuster reveals or a disappointing dud—the mere prospect has catalyzed a wave of mainstream coverage of government UFO research, from the New Yorker to “60 Minutes.” A bewildering and still highly controversial subject has achieved a surprising level of public respectability as a national security concern.

Reid had retired by the time his secret role in the program was revealed. But his willingness to talk openly now about the subject speaks to a profound change in the calculus of political and reputational risk. Far from a blot on his career, Reid sees it as a line to highlight on his legislative resume and he has no regrets about Bigelow benefiting from the program.

“I think that I have opened the door to people not being afraid to talk about it,” Reid now says. “I know that when I first got involved in this, people in the military were afraid to mention it for fear of it hurting their promotions. But now the Pentagon has told them they should report all these things that they see that are unusual. So we made a tremendous amount of progress.”


In just the three years since the existence of the Pentagon UFO office was made public, the federal government has become increasingly less cagey about a subject that was mocked as absurd and feared as taboo; YouTube is now filled with cockpit videos from military pilots, some verified by the Pentagon, of strange encounters with objects that seem to defy known laws of aerodynamics. Just this month a video taken by the USS Omaha off the California coast in 2019 shows an identified spherical aircraft hovering over the water, before disappearing beneath the waves. Even Barack Obama has spoken recently about encounters “we can’t explain.”

The quarter-century saga stretching from Harry Reid’s first attendance at one of Bigelow’s NIDS meetings to the forthcoming release of once-secret documents offers a modern case study in how marginalized ideas can make their way into the mainstream. Last summer, after a series of classified briefings for Congress, including Navy pilots giving direct testimony, the Pentagon announced it was creating the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force “to improve its understanding of, and gain insight into, the nature and origins of UAPs.” In a recent public forum, the Navy’s top officer said the military now has a “well-established process in place…to collect that data and to get it to a separate repository for analysis.” The Pentagon’s internal watchdog announced this month that it is launching its own evaluation “to determine the extent to which the DoD has taken actions regarding Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP).”

Other public and private entities are embracing a subject that once would have been fatal to their institutional credibility. “What if invisible aliens exist among us, already here but unseen by human eyes?” asks a recent blog post from Northrop Grumman, one of the Pentagon’s largest contractors and a bastion of corporate orthodoxy. “Do aliens exist?” asks another entry. “Scientists wonder if extraterrestrial life has visited Earth.” It can sound like a cheesy trailer for a History Channel documentary, except the scientists they’re referring to are working at some of the nation’s most elite schools.

An MIT researcher, Lex Fridman, who specializes in machine learning, commonly delves into the UFO phenomenon on his popular podcast. Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb says he’s confident aliens have flown by Earth. Even Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in America, asked in a recent cover story about UFOs: “Shouldn’t we as scientists choose to investigate and curb the speculation around them?” It answered its own question: “Interdisciplinary teams of scientists should study them.”

The mindset shift inside Congress, in many ways, is the most consequential because of its ability to back up its public discussion with legal mandates and taxpayer dollars. One needn’t believe UFOs are real to recognize that the money that might flow from the Hill very much is.


Rubio, who is widely expected to make a presidential run in 2024, couches his interest in national security terms. “Maybe it’s got a logical explanation,” he recently said. “People want to know, I want to know what it is…There’s stuff flying over the top of our military installations. They don’t know who is flying it. They don’t even know what it is. So that’s a problem. We need to find out if we can.”

Perhaps the clearest sign yet that UFOs have entered the political bloodstream for good was the establishment last week of the first-ever political action committee dedicated to “educating the American public and financially supporting politicians who advocate for the full disclosure of information about unidentified flying objects.”

Who really got us here? The story of how this happened features a network of unlikely characters that grew from its original nucleus to include key political insiders, journalists, a banking dynasty heir, a former terrorist interrogator and even a California rock star, interacting for years in various combinations until they coalesced in a way that created a mutually reinforcing cycle of media coverage and government action. No one is more surprised by what they have accomplished than they are.

If Robert Bigelow and Harry Reid were the publicity-shy backstage benefactors of modern ufology, Tom DeLonge would be its front man.

DeLonge, now 45, was a founding member of the pop-punk band Blink-182, which had a string of earworm hits in the ’90s and early 2000s. DeLonge had been fixated on UFOs since his youth. But it wasn’t until around 2015 when he left the band that he decided to do something about it. He wanted to force the government to disclose what it knew and he began recruiting a team he felt he needed to do it.

It didn’t take long for DeLonge to emerge as a public figure in ufology circles. In 2016, Wikileaks got hold of emails that showed him communicating with former White House chief of staff John Podesta, a confidant of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In one email from 2015, DeLonge offered to introduce Podesta, the ultimate Washington insider, to a pair of “A-Level officials” to discuss “our sensitive topic.”

Not long ago, I visited DeLonge at his office in a renovated garage a few blocks from the beach in the Encinitas neighborhood of San Diego. The space was cluttered with guitars and other music memorabilia. But at least half of the decor was devoted to his other obsession. “It’s so gnarly,” said DeLonge, who still sounds like the California skateboarder of his youth. “There’s more to all this. I personally learned something where I didn’t sleep for three nights.”


Hanging on DeLonge’s wall was what might be considered the medals he’s collected in his struggle: a display case filled with dozens of commemorative coins from his meetings with generals, aerospace contractors and secret government agencies. They trace his visits to the CIA, to the U.S. Navy, to the “advanced development programs” division at Lockheed Martin’s famously secretive “Skunk Works” in Southern California, where the some of the world’s most advanced spy planes were designed.

Something else stuck out to me: a framed photo of DeLonge posing with two men, one of whom was Bob Bigelow. The photo was taken in late 2017, shortly after DeLonge established his company, To the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, a hybrid research and entertainment entity that DeLonge has used to advance his UFO agenda.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” DeLonge told me of his meeting with Bigelow at the Las Vegas headquarters of Bigelow Aerospace, the company he founded in 1999, which has worked for NASA to design living compartments for the Space Station. “He’s a renegade. I love what he’s done. I think he’s just been a tremendous asset in this field of study. We talked a lot about TTSA and what our plans were.”

To the Stars Academy has since teamed up with the Department of Defense to study “exotic” metals and “beamed energy propulsion.” It has also been lobbying for the new government-wide study on UAPs. But a significant part of To the Stars consists of commercial ventures: lines of movies, books, and video games with paranormal and UFO themes. It is, in effect, an engineered feedback loop between his apparently serious interest in the unknown, and a line of products that benefits from public interest in the mystery. This overt crossing of wires, not to mention his more sensational public claims, have led some skeptics to dismiss him as unserious. Even some of DeLonge’s supporters question whether the profit-driven aspects of TTSA have damaged his efforts to bring mainstream credibility to the issue.


But there is no disputing the role DeLonge played in moving UFOs into the realm of more serious discussion. When DeLonge was setting up To the Stars Academy five years ago, he began to assemble a team of consultants not unlike the group Bigelow had brought together some two decades before, who had connections in the shadowy recesses of the national security agencies needed to unearth new information to help prove his theories. In some cases, they were the exact same people.

“From day one, I figured I needed knights of the round table,” DeLonge told me. “I needed a whole Camelot of scholars and each of them had a different piece that really helped me. It was the military, it was intelligence, it was engineering. It was executive branch.”

One of the first people DeLonge recruited as the academy’s vice president for science and technology was Puthoff, the former Stanford engineer who had carried out experiments in the ’70s for the CIA. After NIDS shut down in 2004, Puthoff became one of the top consultants for Bigelow Aerospace, which, in time, became the primary contractor of Reid’s secret Pentagon program. On Bigelow’s behalf, Puthoff commissioned 38 technical reports, worth a total of $22 million, with sci-fi-like titles such as “Warp Drive, Dark Energy, and The Manipulation of Extra Dimensions” and “Traversable Wormholes, Stargates and Negative Energy.”

“There’s a lot we don’t know,” Puthoff recently told me in a telephone interview from Austin, Texas, where he runs a consulting firm EarthTech International. “But on the other hand, there’s a lot we do know, even if it’s not public.”

Another of DeLonge’s recruits was Jim Semivan, who retired in 2007 after 25 years in the CIA’s clandestine service, where he helped spy on adversaries such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. Semivan met DeLonge through Alexander, the Army officer who helped found NIDS with Bigelow. Semivan says he had no official role in studying UFOs for the government, “but I ran into a lot of things that were very strange.” He also told me he had a UFO encounter with his wife that he has never discussed publicly.

Semivan wrote the introduction to DeLonge’s book Sekret Machines: Chasing Shadows, the first volume in a series that DeLonge published in 2016. “UAPs are real. The Phenomenon is real,” Semivan wrote. “There is no way to deny or refute all the evidence accumulated over just the last few decades alone. But what is the Phenomenon, exactly?”

“No one knows what the real story is,” Semivan, who is vice president of operations of DeLonge’s company, told me. “Everyone is in the dark on this.”

DeLonge also enlisted Steve Justice, an aerospace engineer who had spent decades overseeing classified development programs at Lockheed Martin’s famed Skunk Works. Over the years, fellow engineers and other colleagues Justice respected in the cloistered world of the Pentagon’s “black” programs shared with him their experiences with UFO sightings—“some people that I would trust my life with that saw something they could not explain.” But he told me that he remained dubious: “I was in the eyeroll category on this.”

Then in the mid-1990s, after the Skunk Works moved from its original 320-acre location in Burbank to Palmdale, Justice took it upon himself to become its unofficial historian. During the move, he recalled, he came across files from the late Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson, a legendary aeronautical engineer who had helped design the U-2 spy plane and the SR-71 Blackbird.

“There was this one memo that was stapled together, dated from the 1950s,” Justice said. “It was titled something like ‘sighting of an unidentified flying object by certain Lockheed personnel.’ So I flipped it open. The first page is a memo from Kelly Johnson to somebody, I believe, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, saying ‘Some of us saw this, wanted to send it to you in case it is of interest.’ It was several pages of Kelly Johnson where he was at his ranch and had seen something and drew sketches of it.”

There were other eyewitnesses, too. “What I found really interesting was there were like three or so memos written by members of his flight test team, who were [flying] up in a Constellation and they say the same thing that Kelly did,” Justice said. “Each one of them kind of noted that they were skeptics of this and they had to go back and think about this some more because they couldn’t explain what they saw.”


Justice said that as he kept reading his perspective changed. “I go, ‘Okay, these guys are airplane designers…and they didn’t know what this is. And it was observed from two different perspectives. I decided I am going to put aside all the [UFO] stigma stuff.”

Another veteran of NIDS that DeLonge brought on board to advise the effort was Jacques Vallee, a French-born astronomer and computer scientist. Vallee was the inspiration for the scientist in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, about alien abductions by a seemingly benevolent species that communicated with humans subconsciously. In more recent years, Vallee helped run a venture capital firm that partnered with NASA in 2006 to help the space agency explore emerging technologies.

“In the ’60s and ’70s among astronomers the idea of life in the universe was very much in dispute,” Vallee, 81, told me over Zoom. “There was no evidence for any [Earth-like] planet out there. Now it is proven. We have thousands of planets that are either visible or detected by their motion. Some percentage of them would presumably support life in the same conditions as the Earth. And this comes from mainstream science.”

DeLonge’s team of consultants helped him build his commercial ventures, but the most important thing they did was to give him a sense of whom to call at the Pentagon and other agencies.

“At that time, I was reaching out everywhere to meet people. All agencies and branches, anywhere I could get an audience,” DeLonge told me. “I’d write emails to four-star generals and try to get responses. It was a tough path.”

Finally, in 2016, one of DeLonge’s cold calls unearthed the name of a man who would become one of the most crucial players in publicizing the government’s UFO research: Luis Elizondo.

Elizondo, a tattooed bundle of nervous energy with spiky black hair and white goatee, had spent the years after September 11 as a terrorist interrogator.

In June 2008, he was first detailed to the secret UFO program sponsored by Reid, then called the Advanced Aerospace Weapon Systems Applications Program. Later, it would be recast as the Advanced Aerial Threat Identification Program, or AATIP, according to multiple internal documents obtained by POLITICO. Elizondo continued to oversee what became more commonly referred to as the UAP portfolio in the office of the undersecretary of defense for intelligence until he retired from government service in October 2017.


Inside a program whose existence was shrouded from the public, and even most of the Pentagon, Elizondo says he compiled dozens of reports of encounters by pilots, radar operators, and ship captains, including videos of some of the encounters that he got the Pentagon to declassify. He met with technicians such as electro-optical experts and radar engineers to try to explain how some of the vehicles could demonstrate performance characteristics that appeared to be well beyond known aerospace technology.

This was exactly the kind of data that DeLonge knew would excite public interest and possibly pressure the government to be more transparent about what it knows and fund more public and private research. But DeLonge still needed someone who knew how to ply the corridors of influence in Washington and was also considered credible to the most skeptical of observers, including the media.

In 2016, DeLonge reached out to Christopher Mellon. A scion of the Pennsylvania oil and banking family, Mellon, 63, is the epitome of the national security establishment. He was the former staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee and served as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He knew intimately how Washington worked, including the most secret corners of the national security state. And he knew the levers to pull to get both the executive branch and congressional committees to pay attention and take action.

He had also come to be a firm believer that the U.S. government had a “blind spot” when it came to reported intrusions of highly advanced aircraft of unknown origin. Mellon was aware of reported sightings by military personnel but had not known how many, or how recent, nor that there was compelling footage of some of the incidents.


“Tom called me up out of the blue and then through him I met Jim and Hal,” Mellon recently told me, referring to Semivan and Puthoff. “He read an article I wrote. He was trying to get to know all those guys and started cold calling them. He saw the positions I had held. He started chatting me up and wanted to talk about UFOs. I started to meet Hal, Jim and those guys and started to collaborate with them.”

That ultimately led to a Pentagon meeting between Mellon, who had maintained his security clearance after leaving government, and Elizondo. By that time Elizondo felt that despite his best efforts to elevate the issue, including to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, military leaders were not taking the incidents seriously enough. These weren’t simply sighting in remote cornfields; they were in close proximity to major military installations and ships at sea.

“I grew increasingly frustrated by the lack of resources and interest by senior leadership,” Elizondo told me. “UAP reporting to our office was increasing, yet our resources were minimal, and leadership involvement was almost non-existent.”

When he met with Mellon, Elizondo shared information about a series of recent sightings reported by Navy pilots off the East and West coasts, including video footage and accompanying audio of mystified fighter pilots trying to make sense of seemingly other-worldly vehicles stalking them. For Mellon, the videos were a revelation.

“I met Lue at that briefing in the Pentagon,” Mellon said, referring to Elizondo. “Then we started interacting and through Lue I found out more of what was going on…and started getting really exercised about that.”

One of Elizondo’s objectives at the time was to get the government to declassify three of the videos that had been captured by the Navy of UAPs. The intent, he recalled, was to establish an unclassified database, or what he called a “community of interest,” that could be readily accessed by other agencies and even state and local officials to share reports of UAP intrusions or sightings.

“By creating a virtual library to catalogue and analyze each event, our hope will be to better understand the capabilities and ultimately vulnerabilities of these systems,” he wrote in a previously unreported email from August 2017 reviewed by POLITICO.


The Washington Headquarters Services’ declassification division, which supports the Defense Department, quickly approved, concluding that widely disseminating the footage did not pose a security threat or reveal sensitive intelligence. It approved the videos “for unlimited distribution” inside the government, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

But Mellon and Elizondo, in consultation with others now in DeLonge’s orbit, concluded that wasn’t enough: They needed to kick up a media firestorm to get the attention of military and intelligence leaders and even more crucially Congress.

By the fall of 2017, Elizondo decided to put in his retirement papers and go public. He joined TTSA. Mellon, who by then was also a paid adviser to DeLonge’s TTSA, served as Elizondo’s unofficial public relations manager. He started dangling the story to the New York Times, POLITICO and several other mainstream outlets.

The pitch: The Pentagon had been operating a UFO research program in recent years that was tracking numerous unexplained encounters with unknown aircraft and was funded behind the scenes by Reid. And the career civil servant who had been overseeing the portfolio was preparing to quit in disgust.

Over several months, reporters were shown the declassified videos, along with unclassified documentation showing that the aerospace company owned by Bigelow, Reid’s longtime UFO svengali (and campaign donor) had been awarded Pentagon contracts to conduct a series of theoretical studies on the phenomenon.

A number of current and former Pentagon officials who had oversight of the program confirmed the information as authentic, as did Reid and a number of his former staffers. The Pentagon also officially acknowledged the existence of the AATIP program and Elizondo’s role in it.

The Times was granted permission to broadcast the videos; POLITICO was shown the videos but not provided copies. Both outlets independently published their stories on December 16, 2017. Since then, the videos have been viewed tens of millions of times on YouTube.

DeLonge’s team had cracked through the media’s skepticism by offering a story that was incontrovertibly true: The government had funded UFO research. But the program had shut down in 2012 and the ultimate goal of igniting congressional attention was still out there. So Mellon and Elizondo took their lobbying campaign to Capitol Hill, where Mellon still had contacts from his years as an intelligence official.
“He’s written laws, he understands oversight,” DeLonge said, describing Mellon’s crucial role in making a breakthrough. “He’s a shark when it comes to navigating the bureaucracy in D.C.”

Mellon recently recalled the unfolding education campaign on Capitol Hill. “The members sought briefings and meetings with some of the pilots,” he told me. “At that point a huge breakthrough occurred because the Navy was confirming the videos were authentic and unclassified on the Hill, so they publicly had little choice but to acknowledge their authenticity to the public as well. That had a huge impact.”

The U.S. government “was admitting this was happening,” Mellon stressed. “It became suddenly real. That was stunning. UFOs were no longer a rumor or allegation. Uncle Sam acknowledged the reality.”

The Navy also later drafted new guidelines for pilots and other personnel to report such sightings, which was widely seen as a turning point in destigmatizing the issue among the rank and file, even broadcasting a message of encouragement to come forward.

A series of classified briefings for Congress also prompted several members of key oversight committees to speak publicly for the first time about their concerns and call for more research to take place. “People are taking this issue much more seriously,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a senior member of the Intelligence Committee told reporters in June 2019 after attending one of the classified briefings. “The military and others are taking this seriously, which I think in previous generations may not have been the case.”

Additional UAP reports by military personnel also became public, including testimony from pilots about daily encounters up and down the eastern seaboard for nearly a year.

Others began putting more public pressure on the Pentagon to be more forthcoming on what it was doing about the intrusions into protected airspace.

“There is frustration with the lack of answers to specific questions about the threat that superior aircraft flying in United States airspace may pose,” Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican from North Carolina, told POLITICO, following several formal inquiries he made in 2019 to the secretary of the Navy that he felt were not adequately addressed.

At the center of it all, however, were Mellon and Elizondo, who both emerged as media stars, including being featured on their own show on the History Channel (which also interviewed me). It was Mellon, from his perch on the advisory board of DeLonge’s company, who effectively drafted the legislation later adopted by the Senate requesting the UAP report.

“They are the ones who basically moved the ball,” Semivan says. “Chris was taken aback by this whole thing. He was a deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and he didn’t know about this. He felt this was something he couldn’t ignore. Chris took it upon himself to really push this with the committees. He put his reputation on the line.”


The debate that ensued from the revelations in the press in 2017 culminated last summer in the Pentagon publicly announcing it had created its high-level task force to further study the reports.

That followed the legislation from Rubio requesting the government-wide report on UAPs, which was first adopted by the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2020 and then by the full Senate in December.

The report, which is due next month, will mark the first time in more than 50 years that the executive branch has issued a public accounting of its activities related to the UFO phenomenon. In the world of ufology, expectations for blockbuster revelations range from very high, by optimists, to exceedingly low, by the many enthusiasts who distrust anything the government has to say on the topic. To them, even a fizzle doesn’t mean the phenomenon isn’t real; it just means that the government is keeping its real discoveries buried. Or that it hasn’t collected much of anything yet because it hasn’t really tried.

“When it comes to something like this, facts are so scant, the cultural inertia of pseudoscience and stigma and everything is so entrenched,” Justice told me. “I would love it if there is a mountain of data out there. If there is, I sure haven’t seen it.”

Now that government ufology is being brought out into the sunlight, and seemingly surviving the exposure, the next question is what kind of research might actually come from any potential new funding from the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and private funders. Will it lead to a renaissance of government research and academic inquiry that literally changes the horizon of scientific knowledge? Or will it result in research so cringeworthy that no self-respecting officials would dare put their name on it.

There’s precedent for the latter: The results of the raft of theoretical studies that were commissioned by the Pentagon’s AATIP program between 2009 and 2012 were ultimately compiled in a 300-page doorstopper of a report by Bigelow Aerospace. Some were classified; many were not, but even the unclassified reports were never made public, because Mellon and others felt they would be embarrassing and only undercut their long-term efforts.

Some of the original attendees of the early NIDS meetings in Las Vegas have a more optimistic view: Even if next month’s report doesn’t have any bombshells, they think the political atmosphere is different enough that it should be possible to fund serious inquiry into unidentified aerial phenomenon, the kind of research done at major institutions with all the requisite scientific rigor.


“The fact that there is this kind of public request for a report pulls back some of the stigma,” Puthoff told me. “I don’t think a whole lot is going to come out, but the very fact that there is something occurring has reduced stigma to the point that, behind the scenes, people who would like to do more, talk to more people and so on are more likely to be able to do it…. which in the long run of course will be turning to public knowledge.”

Vallee, the French astronomer and venture capitalist, is trying to leverage that growing acceptability to seed a hub of new UFO research in Silicon Valley. His main interest lies in tapping into private-sector brain power and industrial facilities to analyze unknown materials that have been recovered around the world that some believe have otherworldly properties. It is simply no longer an option, he added, to rely on the government to solve the puzzle. “We’re sure the government has done the same thing,” he explained, “but it’s in some basement somewhere and they won’t talk about it.”

DeLonge, like Puthoff, suspects the biggest breakthrough may simply be how much the conversation has changed. “You rarely read the ridiculous dismissals of the UAP phenomenon that were all too common over the past 70 years,” he told me. “We are witnessing the socialization of the UAP phenomenon in a much more accepting way. I am very optimistic about real research on this phenomenon happening in the near future.”


The goal, says Alexander, one of the NIDS co-founders, needs to be “to try and make it permissible for some of our best and brightest to be involved in these studies without risking their reputation or livelihoods.”

But at least no one seems to be at great risk of losing their professional standing by being associated with UFOs. With the advent of a UFO political action committee, there might be an advantage to politicians who speak up rather than remain silent.

“Dozens of men and women we have entrusted with the defense of our country are telling us about encounters with unidentified aircraft with capabilities we do not fully understand,” Marco Rubio told me. “We cannot allow the stigma of UFOs to keep us from seriously investigating these encounters.”

Semivan, the former spy, insists that it’s unlikely what has happened over the last three years and what is likely to come of the forthcoming revelations could have taken place without DeLonge’s organizational effort.

“Tom says stuff sometimes and we argue about it,” Semivan told me. “But nevertheless, this is the guy who stuck his neck out. This is the guy who pulled all the stuff together so everybody else could talk about it.”

DeLonge himself is somewhat surprised by the speed and effectiveness of his campaign.

“Someone from the DoD was just telling me: ‘Dude, you blew the china shop wide open and now things are pouring out and there is no putting it back in. The genie’s out of the bottle.’ ”

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